By Steve Nelson, US News & World Report, December 29, 2014
Though it’s largely evolved from a protest movement in favor of fiscal discipline into an ill-defined conservative brand, the so-called tea party continues to be represented by several advocacy organizations and elected officials, and provided plenty of fodder for TV pundits and political pontificators in 2014.
Here’s some of what riled people associated with the movement this year.
Six-Term ‘RINO’ Woos Democrats to Win Re-Election
He’s been serving in Congress longer than most Americans have been alive, and in November centrist Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., won a seventh six-year term in the Senate.
He did that by first narrowly defeating tea party-associated candidate Chris McDaniel in a June Republican primary runoff.
Looking doomed after the first round of voting, Cochran — a proud and prolific pork-barrel spender — actively campaigned for Democratic votes, enraging McDaniel supporters and the national tea party-associated groups backing his candidacy.
McDaniel refused to accept defeat and sued, arguing in part that voter fraud enabled Cochran’s win. The suit was thrown out of court.
$1.1 Trillion Deal Forged in Back Rooms, Passed Hours Later
With little time to spare to prevent a partial government shutdown, House and Senate leaders smooshed a year’s worth of appropriation bills into a single package and unveiled their 1,603-page deal about 48 hours before bringing the bundle to a vote in the House.
Specific policy riders enraged or pleased members, but the rapid-fire appropriation of more than a thousand billion dollars incensed good-government watchdogs and tea party affiliates.
More than a dozen conservative and tea party-associated Republicans, including Reps. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, and Tim Huelskamp, R-Kans., voted against House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on a procedural vote, momentarily putting the bill’s fate in question. Ultimately, the bill passed the House 219-206 and the Senate 56-40.
‘Moderate’ Syrian Rebels Get More Guns, Training
The Obama administration has quietly financed Syrian militant groups for years through the Central Intelligence Agency and with approval from a handful of congressmen, according to reports.
But this year, the funds for arms and training were appropriated more democratically — offering skeptics an opportunity to put up a fight, which they did before losing 273-156 in the House and 78-22 in the Senate.
Unlike with many votes on foreign policy and surveillance matters, outgoing Rep. Michele Bachmann, who founded the House Tea Party Caucus, joined many other tea party-associated members and a large number of Democrats voting against the more hawkish party lines.
Cantor Crushed: ‘Hell No’ Caucus Gains Member, But Fails to Replace Boehner
In a stunning defeat, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., in June lost his primary to little-known candidate Dave Brat, who aggressively attacked him on immigration policy, government spending and bailouts.
Known for standing behind Boehner at press conferences, Cantor was disliked by many tea party activists, but his loss was not expected and national groups did not back Brat.
Boehner, who described unbending fiscal conservatives part of a “hell no” caucus within his party, fared better, winning his primary and re-election and then escaping a possible leadership challenge in November.
“I don’t have any comment on that,” tea party-associated libertarian Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky, told USA Today. “There was only one person on the ballot. It’s just like North Korea.”
Rand Paul Hits the Trail for Mitch McConnell
There’s quiet disillusionment among many tea party-minded activists whenever Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., appears to soften his stances in advance of a possible 2016 presidential run.
The concern is often expressed on online forums founded by fans of his father, former Rep. Ron Paul, and peaked when Paul endorsed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for re-election and hit the campaign trail with him.
McConnell faced off against self-professed tea partier Matt Bevins, who generated significant buzz before his campaign fizzled.
Paul family relative and political aide Jesse Benton, who managed McConnell’s campaign, explained in a leaked phone call he was merely plugging his nose to aid Paul, though the senator himself did not admit to such motives.
“Quite frankly, Rand Paul is beginning to have a credibility problem with the Kentucky Tea Parties,” Scott Hoffstra, spokesman for the United Kentucky Tea Party, told Breitbart News.
‘Emperor Obama’ Changes Immigration Enforcement Policies
Far from the original emphasis on lowering spending and taxes, many (but not all) groups seeking to institutionalize the tea party movement were enraged by Obama’s unilateral decision to spare up to 5 million people from deportation.
Obama, derisively referred to as “deporter in chief” by immigration activists pointing to his record-high rates of forcing out visa-less visitors, says the November pivot is revenue neutral and an acceptable use of prosecutorial discretion.
All Static on the Surveillance Front
Members of the House of Representatives who most proudly wear the tea party label tend to oppose the government’s domestic surveillance programs, funded with a “black budget” whose price tag is kept secret from many congressmen.
Tea party-affiliated members generally form a bloc with progressive Democrats against centrists, war hawks and party leaders.
As with the July 2013 Amash amendment vote, this year tea party-associated members voted largely together on the USA Freedom Act, which like the Amash amendment would have ended the NSA’s automatic collection and in-house retention of U.S. phone records.
Many tea partiers co-sponsored the bill, but voted against it when it was weakened at the behest of the Obama administration and House leaders (it passed without their votes).
In the Senate, tea party-associated Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, pleaded for passage of a retooled version of the Freedom Act, but the cloture vote failed with Sen. Paul voting “no,” saying he’d prefer to kill underlying Patriot Act provisions next year. Many civil liberties advocates were appalled by Paul’s position, but he argued his approach is more likely to bring true reform.
Major Marijuana Policy Reform Passes
Self-professed tea partiers tend to be supports of states’ 10th Amendment rights, and many have been active in promoting local autonomy on marijuana policy.
Several Republicans co-introduced an amendment in May to ban the Department of Justice — which includes federal prosecutors and the Drug Enforcement Administration — from spending money to go after medical marijuana in states that allow it.
After passing the House 219-189, the amendment was attached to the $1.1 trillion spending bill and became law.
Federal raids on medical pot users accelerated early in Obama’s first term and remain an issue in some places — such as Washington state, where a family faces possible trial and imprisonment for roughly complying with state law.
In addition to long-serving maverick Reps. Dana Rohrabacher of California and Don Young of Alaska, the measure was co-introduced by tea party-associated Reps. Paul Broun, R-Ga., Justin Amash, R-Mich., Tom McClintock, R-Calif., and Steve Stockman, R-Texas.
Another tea party-affiliated member, Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., who rode the 2010 Republican wave into Congress, introduced legislation that would make it possible to acquire marijuana at the neighborhood pharmacy with health insurance.